Oracle Analytics Cloud (OAC), the latest Cloud offering from Oracle, is now “live” and available for customer use. OAC bundles the existing Data Visualization (DV) and Business Intelligence Cloud Service (BICS) with the entirely new Essbase Cloud. This post will focus on the features of that new product, and what it offers to both existing and new Essbase users.
Platform as a Service
The Essbase component of OAC follows a “Platform as a Service” (PaaS) model. Installation, backup and infrastructure details are all taken care of by Oracle, reducing IT dependence and providing a "blank slate" Essbase instance for custom applications. The service is licensed on a flexible, capacity basis - customers can select, and only pay for, the processing power, memory and storage that they need for their applications. Capacity can be changed quickly to trackdemand. The platform has a new web user interface that will seem familiar to anyone who has worked with existing EPM cloud products (such as PBCS):
All the normal “development” functions in Essbase are available through this interface. For example, here is the Essbase Cloud outline editor being used to review part of the outline of the demonstration Sample. Basic cube:
The security model has been simplified, and is comprised of just three roles:
- Service Administrator - equivalent to the existing “Administrator” role in Essbase
- Power User - this role allows users to create and administer their own cubes, without necessarily being granted access to other user’s cubes
- User - users can read from / write to existing cubes as allowed by power users or the service administrator.
The most significant change here is that there is now a non-administrative role (Power User) that is able to create new applications, but is not permitted to, for example, delete or change existing applications. This is a necessary change because, while Essbase Cloud will happily run existing “IT-built” applications just like an on-premises server, it also provides two new methods for building applications. These are specifically designed to put control back into the hands of end-user analysts.
Platform as a Service
The first new method for creating cubes is the unstructured upload” Essbase can now analyze a “data dump” style spreadsheet, and from column headings and other data relationships, attempt to identify the dimensionality and measures represented in it. For example, the following spreadsheet is provided by Oracle as a demonstration:
A user can upload this spreadsheet; Essbase performs analysis on it, and both a) builds a new cube and b) loads data from it. Even better is that, because Essbase will by default use Hybrid BSO mode when it creates the new cube, the cube is created already aggregated and ready for the user to start querying direct from Smart View immediately. This method is designed to allow users to build and share cubes very quickly from existing spreadsheet sources, without first having to understand Essbase technical concepts or tools.
Essbase Cloud provides an alternative method for building cubes based on spreadsheet data using a specific template format. Templates are supplied, or can be generated from either existing on-premises cubes or from Essbase Cloud cubes built manually or via the unstructured import described above. The template format looks like this:
This more complex structure allows control over detailed Essbase member properties, the addition of formulas and attributes and so on. It does require the user to know a little more about how Essbase works, and to understand at least one dimension build format (such as Parent-Child, in this example). Having said that, Oracle have provided a very neat extension to Smart View named “CubeDesigner”:
Cube Designer allows users to preview the hierarchies created in Excel in an intuitive tree view format, edit formulae, and trigger updates and calculations of the cube directly from Excel, without ever having to log in to the web user interface. In other words, Excel becomes a complete Essbase development environment for analysts to develop their own prototypes:
The use of Excel to build cubes is not, strictly, a new feature - it was available in Essbase in the mid-1990s. With Essbase Cloud Oracle are re-empowering power user / analysts to develop and modify cubes, with appropriate security and controls to ensure that these applications don’t affect “production” applications running on the same server. This will open up some interesting possibilities, especially coupled with the bundled Data Visualization tools.
In line with the Oracle model that cloud applications get new features first, there are some new features in Essbase Cloud that are particularly noteworthy. In particular, we have “Scenario Management”, which provides sandboxing (with potentially hundreds of working version) and some simple approvals processes for merging working versions into “live”. A very large number of scenarios can be supported because this feature is implemented in such a way that only changed data (i.e. the “deltas”) are stored, rather than the classic Hyperion Planning approach of taking a full copy of the entire dataset as a starting point. Additionally, Smart View allows users to run calculation scripts with member prompts; e.g. a script can be run with a user-selectable “fix” on a specific scenario and version.
These two features together suggest that Essbase Cloud could be used to create some powerful “Planning-Style” applications, without any of the normal PBCS limitations (and, of course, without some of the useful PBCS features - there is a trade-off!).
In addition to creating applications with the new Excel interfaces, existing on-premises applications can be migrated to Essbase Cloud. This might be part of a broader cloud strategy, to take advantage of the new cloud-only features, or to provide a “sandboxed” environment separate from existing installations. There are several ways to achieve this:
- Oracle provide a "DBX" (data export) command line tool - this takes an existing on-premises database and automatically generates a formatted Excel file which can then be uploaded to Essbase cloud using the web interface or the Cube Designer plugin.
- LCM - Essbase Cloud comes with an Essbase-specific version of Lifecycle Management for extracting on-premises cubes for upload to Essbase Cloud
- File Transfer - outlines, calculation scripts and rules files, along with data and metadata files, may be directly uploaded to the Essbase Cloud server using the web interface
The Java API is supported by Essbase cloud, and a REST API with a command-line interface is provided that allows file transfer, dimension builds, data loads and calculations to be automated. Other automation (such as full MaxL scripting) is not currently supported (we would hope to see this functionality added shortly). Security will also have to be “refactored” between existing on-premises installations, especially if it relies upon on-premises roles that do not have a direct equivalent in Essbase Cloud.
TIf you currently run on-premises Essbase, or know about the power of Essbase but are deterred by the infrastructure / installation complexity, you need to know what Essbase Cloud now offers. Qubix are happy to help you understand the potential benefits in the context of your business challenges. Contact us to arrange a demonstration.
Qubix Essbase Cloud offering - http://www.qubix.com/oracle-oacs